Spin-Checking the Fact Checkers

Following Donald Trump’s policy speech on immigration last night, the Washington Post put its fact checkers to work on analyzing it. As usual, their analysis is far more spin than fact. A few points in particular are worth noting.

“[FAIR, whose report was cited by Trump] counts the cost of educating the children of illegal immigrants, even if they are born in the United States and, thus, are U.S. citizens”

This is a common obfuscation, and no one should be fooled. Without the unauthorized-immigrant parents, those kids would not have been born in the U.S. in the first place. So of course, the services used by the kids have to enter into the accounting.

“We should note that because the federal government is currently running a deficit, U.S. citizens also receive more in government benefits than they pay in taxes”

First, this is silly, as it counts as “benefits” things like waging expensive wars in the Middle East.

But more importantly, it is lumping together poor people and rich people. Poor people, including citizens, do pay less in taxes than they receive in services. Immigration, most of which consists of poor people, adds greatly to that burden. Those who call for reduced immigration are making the point that we already have enough poor people, and it is unwise to add even more to the tax burden. What’s not to understand?

Trump: “Hillary Clinton has pledged amnesty in her first 100 days, and her plan will provide Obamacare, Social Security and Medicare for illegal immigrants, breaking the federal budget”

WP: “Trump falsely says Clinton’s plan will provide Social Security to illegal immigrants. We awarded this claim Four Pinocchios. In general, people in the United States illegally are not eligible to collect Social Security benefits”

Four Pinocchios? I award 40 Dumbos to the Post. Trump was talking about amnesty, which by definition means that the illegals turn in to legals. Is the Post that logic-challenged?

Trump: “[The number of unauthorized immigrants is] always 11 million. Our government has no idea. It could be 3 million. It could be 30 million. They have no idea what the number is”

WP: “…no serious research supports Trump’s claim it could be as high as 30 million”

For crying out loud, come on, Trump wasn’t presenting that 30 million number as a statistical estimate. He was just making the point that no one really knows the true figure.

“…the vast majority of unauthorized immigrants do not fit Trump’s description of aggravated felons, whose crimes include murder”

Trump has never said most of the illegals are criminals. So, I award 12 When-Did-You-Stop-Beating-Your-Wife points to the Post.

But it brings up an important question: Concerning immigrant crime, should one look at absolute numbers or proportions? Trump was focusing on the former, basically saying, “Without illegal immigration, these murdered Americans would be alive today.” Whether one agrees or not with this view of things, there is no denying that it is a legitimate, relevant form of analysis. It is similar to the tax burden example above; we already have a lot of criminals, so do we want to add even more criminals through immigration?

Unfortunately, many people have such poor math skills that they don’t even understand the difference between absolute numbers and proportions. I wrote a blog about this in the context of immigrant crime.

As usual, Trump’s tone and language (including body language) last night were too over-the-top for my taste. But contentwise, there actually was very little in his speech that most Americans would find seriously objectionable. It’s time that the Post based its fact-checking on real facts, not presenting biased spin as fact.


23 thoughts on “Spin-Checking the Fact Checkers

  1. Trump is like the proverbial broken clock: he is right twice a day and immigration is one of those times.

    I found much of what he said last night to be spot on. But, the overemphasis on the stereotypical illegal is counterproductive; the prize is reducing overall ‘legal’ immigration numbers and getting workplace enforcement and visa controls implemented to forestall the next 12 million.

    For the current millions here illegally? Minimally just ignore them rather than reward them, but what if we require all in the country illegally to register within 90 days or face criminal penalties and expedited deportation – otherwise no threat of immediate deportation. That way we learn with greater accuracy how many are here and the costs of ‘hosting’ them (and ratchet up compliance with tax laws) and have a much clearer idea of whom to later repatriate, (certainly not all but definitely some real number greater than zero.)

    For a challenging take on Trump’s immigration policies this is worth reading:


  2. “First, this is silly, as it counts as “benefits” things like waging expensive wars in the Middle East.”

    Norm, I think this comment paints an unfair picture of federal expenditures on behalf of a greatful American public. I mean you’ve left out all of the other important things that are funded by our federal tax dollars, you know, like paying the NSA to trample the Forth Amendment and spy on Americans, in clear violation of law, not to mention funding the important work of the U.S. Justice Department as it takes down dangerous cybercriminals like Aaron Swartz, as well as the FBI’s wonderful work in enforcing commercial copyrights on behalf of Hollywood studios. (I only wish that I could get their help in enforcing *my* commercial contractual issues!)

    Sorry. I just wanted to add a little additional perspective to your comment.

    Other than that, I agree with essentially all of the important points you’ve made in this post, even despite the fact that I have a general fear and loathing of Mr. Trump. You (and he) are correct that, almost by definition, nobody has any real idea of how many people are here in violation of law. And I can find nothing to disagree with in _your_ interpretations of Mr. Trump’s comments. (Note that I distinguish here between your interpretations of Mr. Trumps comments, and the actual minimalist and confusing statements that have come out of Mr. Trump’s own mouth. I like what *you* say, Norm. But I have no clear sense that what you say has any clear relationship to whatever Mr. Trump might possibly have actually meant.)

    This is the fundamental problem with Mr. Trump. Just as nobody can know for sure how many illegals are here, nobody can know for sure what should properly be inferred from Mr. Trump’s characteristically terse comments. You say that he intended to say that Hillary will give Social Security benefits to illegals -after- she has connived to get them some form of amnesty which would allow such benefits to be bestowed. But if that’s really what Mr. Trump meant, and if that’s really what he had intended to say, then why didn’t he just say that, himself?

    You can’t have it both ways Norm. You can’t accuse The Post of being “dumbos” for having drawn -their- preferred inferences from Trump’s entirely (and perhaps deliberately) inexact and terse pronouncements, and then turn aound and suggest -your own- set of different, and more palatable inferences.

    The candidate can and should speak for himself. On those occasions where he actually does have an intended clear meaning, he should speak clearly and make his own meaning clear. But Mr. Trump doesn’t do that, ever. Instead he consistantly makes terse pronouncements which are then trivially and predictably subjected to an entire spectrum of slanted misinterpretations by commentators of all political stripes.

    This is THE fundamental problem with a 140 character candidate. His true intended meaning is essentially NEVER clear. May god save and protect us in the event that we are ever saddled with a 140 character president.

    P.S. I eagerly await the inevitable Trump Rorschach test tweet “Time flies like an arrow” followed by the equally inevitable cascade of pundit arguments about the proper parsing thereof.


  3. I resent being ridiculed for honestly held beliefs like has occurred the past seven years more than anything. Both major candidates have a stage presence that I find unsettling,, but I resent more having a member of the political class who has done no real work telling us what a bad job we are doing and deciding that hard earned money should go to others.


    • “…but I resent more having a member of the political class who has done no real work telling us what a bad job we are doing and deciding that hard earned money should go to others.”


      I can’t help being curious however as to which one of the major party candidates you were attempting to refer to. (And no, it isn’t at all obvious which one. Yet another perfect example of the kind of ambiguity that I referred to earlier. On the one hand, Trump inherited millions, and thus has never been obliged to toil in the fields, under the hot sun. Arguably, he’s never done “real” work in his entire life, unless you count telling people they are fired on TV. On the other hand, it seems even more self-evident that both Clinton and Trump would like to take from some and redistribute to others, the only disagreement between them being which end of the economic spectrum should be on the receiving end of this government-endorsed and government-mandated largess.)


      • Not so much a candidate but the current occupant of the WH. However, my family was from AR and so I have little respect for the products of that political machine; their activities were questionable even way back then. People can change, but did she for better or for worse?

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I will just say, though I do not keep a bunch of bookmarks, I believe I have seen serious estimates of illegals that may be as high as 20m and I would not be shocked if it really were 30m. The point is look around, and are you happy with what you see. Look at your state budget, and consider what could be done with several billions now spend on supporting illegals in schools, food stamps, emergency rooms, crime, section 8 housing. Or would you just prefer to preserve social security and lower your taxes ten percent? Washington Post has become an absolute toilet of a newspaper, even the New York Times is not that bad, and the New York Times is an unreadable joke.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. > But more importantly, it is lumping together poor people and rich people. Poor people, including citizens, do pay less in taxes than they receive in services. Immigration, most of which consists of poor people, adds greatly to that burden. Those who call for reduced immigration are making the point that we already have enough poor people, and it is unwise to add even more to the tax burden. What’s not to understand?

    Agreed. It’s a mistake to lump together poor people and rich people. It’s also a mistake to lump together all ages of people. The first two graphs at http://www.econdataus.com/outgdp17.html show that the areas of spending that are increasing the most over time are Health, Medicare, and Social Security. Health is chiefly composed of Medicaid which goes to poor people but Medicare and Social Security go to the elderly. That’s not meant as a knock against the poor or the elderly. The poor have arguably been hurt by the stagnation of wages and loss of middle-class jobs. Some of that may be due to unwise immigration policies. Likewise, the elderly have arguably been hurt by rising health care costs and ageism in some industries that forces them into retirement. That ageism may likewise be fed by unwise immigration policies. In any event, we are having enough trouble dealing with our current deficit and it makes absolutely no sense to adopt policies that add MORE deficit.

    By the way, the graphs also show that net interest costs are down but are projected to rise quickly. Much of the reason that these costs are down is the very low interest rates that we are currently paying on the debt. I suspect that the government will do everything in its power to keep these rates down if for no other reason that we arguably can’t afford to pay the high interest rates that we’ve paid in the past. It makes no sense to add even more deficit spending and make these problems even worse.


  6. I’d expect a certain amount of spinning, but a lot of Trump’s statements are vague generalities that can be interpreted different ways to get different “facts”.

    The real, very interesting issue here is that we don’t have much in the way of information on numbers of illegal aliens, income, taxes paid, how they’re paid (legit employment paying taxes, but using a fake SSN, or under the table), wages sent abroad, non-working dependents, etc. And it would be helpful to know what jobs they’re allegedly taking from US citizens. Until we know this information, arguments from all sides on this issue are based on opinion not facts. Likewise, conclusions and recommended actions based on those conclusions are just so much smoke and mirrors. Trump’s demagoguery just adds to the confusion, and we do these people, and ourselves, a disservice by not looking at this issue from a factual, objective perspective and arriving at a humane, workable solution for all sides.


  7. I believe that things like this are the reason our modern day Robber Barron’s are buying the media.
    After all, control the media, control the content, or propaganda.

    Society will not work unless we find a way to balance the needs of capital and the rights of labor and the only way to do that is by electing people in government who understand that it is up to them to develop and maintain this balance.

    But even that won’t work unless we have a media who understands that it is up to them to ensure that this balance is maintained by exposing any corruption.


      • I was focused on becoming a millionaire and had tunnel vision so I NEVER studied any of this stuff.

        My suspicion is that 75% or more of Americans are in the same boat and by that I mean trying to build their future as they see it, which leaves little time to study the things that are discussed here.

        Speaking of propaganda.
        Remember how we are all told that the H-1B visa is only for hard to fill specialty occupations?

        How is an assistant pasty chef in that field?


        And yes, I came close to being worth that much on paper in 2002 until the powers that be decided pastry chefs (my apologies to american pastry chefs) can be issued high tech hunting licenses like the H-1B which ended my good fortune overnight as the contractor market dried up for Americans and opened wide for the holders of the H-1B Hunting Licenses that they won in a lottery.


      • Since we’ve seen no improvement along these lines (especially with the excessive focus on Clinton negatives verses the lack of focus on Trump’s many, many questionable activities), this observation should be repeated frequently.


  8. The statement about “benefits” of deficits is even more than silly – it is ridiculous and should be ridiculed – Not only the benefits of deficit spending (as questionable and fleeting as most of them may be) accrue to the people, so does the debt created therefrom accrue to the people – and it essentially lasts forever !! No paydown is possible without rapid economic growth, which is not in the cards.


  9. The problem with the rabid distortions about Trump is that they validate basic bad thinking and logic as they come from supposedly non-partisan sources. I understand that democracy is a contact sport and lots of accusations get hurled, but this mass hysteria in which bad and phony ways of thinking and discourse become acceptable is not being fueled by party partisans but by institutions vital in keeping some vestiges of democracy. Of course this all shuts down any legitimate debate and allows Clinton’s own extremism (war with Russia over emails embarrassing the DNC and DWS?) to go unchallenged. I am afraid this hysteria of the irrational will not stop with the election but continue afterward.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Bill Clinton was against NAFTA until he was elected. Obama was going to re-write NAFTA until he was elected. Trump (Tramp) would need to let down a lot of people to beat those records.

    Liked by 1 person

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